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VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican is looking to renew its agreement with China and hopes to have the deal finalized this fall.
The secret deal between the Holy See and the Chinese Communist Party was originally signed in 2018. It is set to expire in October after its two-year renewal in 2020.
The prospective renewal looms despite the persecution of Cdl. Joseph Zen by the Chinese government. Zen and his five associates began trial on Monday, after being arrested on the charge of breaking Chinese national security law.
The six were apprehended for their involvement in the 612 Humanitarian Fund. The fund was active in 2019–2021 and provided medical and legal assistance for pro-democracy protestors. It was named after the June 12, 2019, protest in Hong Kong over an extradition bill.
In an exclusive interview with Church Militant in 2019, the faithful cardinal relayed, "The people around him [Pope Francis], especially this Cdl. Parolin — he knows everything [about China], he has a lot of experience, he knows how evil the Communists are, but I am sure he is not giving the right information to the Holy Father."
Cardinal Pietro Parolin — the Vatican secretary of state — is the one in charge of the Vatican's dealings with the Chinese authorities. He announced earlier this month he is hopeful the deal with China will be done in the upcoming months.
The Vatican has remained silent on the persecution of Cdl. Zen and the rest of the underground church, seemingly for the sake of getting a deal agreed upon.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller — former prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith — is one of the only high-ranking voices speaking out against the injustice suffered by Zen.
Müller recently commented in an Italian newspaper on the silence of the recent consistory to stand in solidarity with Cdl. Zen, stating, "In this case, I wonder, why not criticize Beijing? Zen is a symbol, and he was arrested on a pretext; he did nothing. He is authoritative, courageous and much feared by the government. He is 90 years old, and we left him alone."
The persecution of the Catholic Church in China is not new, but it has ramped up since the Vatican–China deal was signed.
Cardinal Zen explained, to Church Militant in 2019, China's increase in hostility:
The situation is pretty much worse. Before there was an agreement, there was a kind of compromise on many points; for example, the underground church could have their church buildings, and the underground priests, even in the cities, could say Masses for the faithful, even though the law is against that. But the authorities, for a long time, never enforced those laws. Now, they enforce those laws. So it is a much harsher persecution after the agreement; it is terrible.
Recently, Bp. Dong Baolu recently saw his church get demolished after authorities learned he did not plan to sign the document to join the Catholic Patriotic Association, the China-backed schismatic church. Baolu is reportedly the only priest in the Zhengding diocese who is refusing to join the State church. The diocese has more than a hundred priests.
The faithful prelate commented on the Vatican's complicity in the matter: "The Sino–Vatican agreement supports the official church, not underground church. This policy is as if when someone is sleepy, you hand him a pillow — perfect! Vatican has given [China] the opportunity to deal with underground church; now, the government would be a fool if it does not handle [the underground church]."